The arid landscape of the Great Chihuahuan Desert, which encompasses parts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, is capped by a breathtakingly blue sky that, except for late summer, is seldom populated with more than a few drifting clouds. The countryside extends for miles in every direction and seems lifeless.
The vast desert is interrupted in only one of two ways either by a distant range of mountains, or by fertile valleys. It is in these irrigated valleys that desert southwest cotton growers produce their crops.
Like the rest of the far west, the farming areas are completely irrigated. The region as a whole receives only about eight inches of rain annually. Some of the irrigation is delivered from river flow, and some is pumped from underground sources, but all of the available water is provided by snow runoff from mountain ranges mostly to the north.
Cotton production in these desert valleys occurs at an average of about 4,000 feet in altitude and usually results in cotton with very desirable spinning qualities.
It is an area well-suited to specialty cottons such as American Pima and Acala 1517, as well as a diverse mix of Upland cotton growths, with very good quality characteristics.
There are several local climatic features that allow desert growers to produce very high quality cotton crops: an abundance of hot, dry days and cool nights due to the high altitude contribute to quality. The growing season is longer than much of the U.S., though somewhat shorter than California and Arizona’s 180-day schedule, due to a longer, colder winter.
Plenty of irrigation water and an absence of disruptive rains during the growing season are also beneficial, but this region of the irrigated west probably has the greatest potential for quality variance, due to thunderstorms during the summer. Consequently, no two years are absolutely identical in terms of cotton production.
Historically, the United States and Western Europe have been the biggest markets for Acala 1517, as well as for American Pima. Asian countries have also been good users of American Pima.
Mexico, the U.S. and Asia have typically been the big consumers of the local upland varieties, and in no small part because of the close proximity to Mexico.
The area overall plants about 80,000 acres of all varieties combined, and annual production will range between 120,000 and 160,000 bales.